Review: The Brand of the Warlock

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A hooded man, his face marred by a mysterious black brand, walks the Plain of Savlos. Some say he has the power to summon demons. Others say he is the only one who can vanquish them. His name is Konrad, and he has a secret….

Once an ordinary soldier, his life was forever changed by a fateful meeting with a dying sorcerer. Now he is all that stands between civilization and the creeping evil of the shadow world. The Brand of the Warlock is the first book in the fast-paced sword & sorcery series THE COUNTERFEIT SORCERER.

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Review: The Brand of the Warlock by Robert Kroese

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Brand of the Warlock. I encourage you to check it out!

The Brand of the Warlock is a clever and compelling fantasy novel, thick with mystery and suspense, dark magic and demons! A unique dilemma afflicts the main character, who persists through wit and sheer moxie, capturing the reader’s curiosity for what he will do next. This entertaining sword and sorcery story kicks off The Counterfeit Sorcerer series with both magic and intrigue.

This review contains minor spoilers.

Suspense

The pacing of this story is fantastically executed. While I would hesitate to call it “fast-paced,” it certainly never felt plodding. Each event starts with a steady build of tension and pays off with concise, intense action.

The story begins with a simple question: how did the main character end up in prison?

The initial scene creates interest through well-crafted dialogue between the prisoner and the chief prosecutor. They each attempt to manipulate the other in order to get what they want, but their back-and-forth is not without risk. The chief prosecutor has been forced to release this prisoner and fears retribution from the powerful sorcerer he locked up. Likewise, the prisoner fears miscalculating the situation and being returned to his cell. They each are trying to get what they want without tipping their own hand.

At the end of the chapter, the prisoner Konrad is free, but it is revealed that he is not the sorcerer. This revelation deepens the mystery, raising additional questions.

The novel continues in this manner. Dialogue is compelling and never lacks some kind of conflict to create interest. The twisty revelations cause the reader to re-evaluate the information previously revealed. The question of Konrad’s past is slowly answered, but his desire to reunite with the girl he loves continues to draw him into the greater conflict around his mistaken identity until he is fighting demons in their own world!

Wit and Moxie

Konrad’s character delivers a lot of the entertainment value for this story. He is clever and resourceful, and fate seems out to get him. However, no matter the setback, he maintains his stalwart focus on his goals, finds allies to help him, and does the right thing.

His greatest talent is his wit. He devises clever plans and convinces others to participate. While he can certainly formulate a good smart-alecky comeback, Konrad’s character is genuine. He lacks the sarcasm and rude manner popularized by Marvel and Sherlock, whose characters insult their friends just as smoothly as their enemies.

These qualities make him both entertaining and sympathetic. His trials can be attributed to bad luck and not a bad attitude. This is the kind of character I can cheer for!

Setting

The Brand of the Warlock’s setting is not necessarily unique for the sword and sorcery genre. I do not mean to fault this setting in any way, but rather to point out that it, like every element of this story, is carefully constructed without being overbuilt. Veszedelem, the demon world, is interesting in its mechanics, partly because there is no tedious explanations of minor details.

One set that I particularly enjoyed was the haunted ruins. When they were first introduced, I thought it they were simply part of a generic fetch quest – part of developing Konrad’s reputation in his mistaken persona. I was pleasantly surprised to find it return as the stage for the larger conflict!

Every scene, character, and event contributes to this story in a meaningful way. There didn’t appear to be a single element of worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding. There was enough description to create a clear picture in my mind, but it never weighed down the plot.

Everything served the story, and the story was entertaining!

The End

This story did have one weakness that I feel must be addressed. The story laid the groundwork, established settings, built the tension, developed characters, and brought them together. Everything was primed for the climax. Then the book ended.

There had certainly been some big confrontations prior to the end, and Konrad’s quest to be reunited with his love is completed. However, there wasn’t the payoff that the rhythm of the story had led me to expect.

Part of this is due to the presence of too many antagonists, all of which entered the story too close to the ending. There wasn’t time to build the sense of necessity to their conflicts that would provide resolution. So much of the story was driven by the mystery of Konrad’s predicament of a false identity that the information about his antagonists’ characters came too late.

This situation does put the same pressure on a reader as a cliff-hanger, and the rest of the series is available and may provide resolution and live up to the promises this story made. That said, this story certainly has you reaching for the next book in the series!

Check It Out!

The Brand of the Warlock is a well-crafted story, with every element contributing to the driving suspense, and a tone of sincerity. While the abrupt ending is disappointing, it is preceded by a tightly woven tale and promises even more entertainment in the rest of The Counterfeit Sorcerer series!

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